In this story, the narrator sheds some light on a common and basic aspect of human life. That aspect is sex about which we come to know through Halima, the main character of the story. Halima is a poor woman who works in the narrator’s house in Gulberg V, Lahore. She lives in the adjacent locality where people like Halima spend their lives. Halima is a married woman who has two children: daughter Gul Badan of six years and Allah Rakha four years younger than Gul Badan.
The story opens with the mention of cicadas which come to Lahore every year in the rainy season. “…their being was brief and unremarked, quite lost within the pleasurable nuisance of the rain.” They had been coming there for the last seventeen years. They had only three functions to perform. They, “arrive, mate and die”, and dead bodies were totally ignored by the people.
“And thus no insect-wing could fill the span of our attention, not the onslaught of the rain…..”
After a somewhat detailed description of the summer and rainy season, the story turns to Pater Nadi’s arrival in Lahore. He came to Lahore after every seventeen years. He always came in the winter season. Pather Nadi sauntered in Anarkali, one of the busiest bazaars of Lahore, and enjoyed eating berries. He did not tastek falsas and jamans. Pather Nadi did not know about the activities of the summer season in Lahore. “Pather Nadi would not have known the counterpoint that winter offers to summer rhythms of Lahore.”
Lahore, a historical city of Pakistan is seventeen miles away from the Wahga border. Pather Nadi comes here after every seventeen years. Cicadas had been coming here for the last seventeen years. Lahore witnessed the 17 days war of 1965.
“….. headlines that blazed forth in London during the war of 1965- LAHORE HAS FALLEN- when its residents were forced to wonder, had we? And if so, into what?”
During that war in September 1965, the atmosphere was filled with the songs sung by Nur Jahan. This city is also an eyewitness of the war of 1971. Through centuries many kings and emperors have ruled over this city but it cared for none, how it could care for Pather Nadi who visited this city once in every seventeen years. He journeyed down from Khyber Pass to Peshawar, to Rawalpindi. Traveling by G.T.Road he crossed Jelhum and reached Lahore.
The Narrator knows nothing about Pather Nadi. It was Halima who told her about him. Halima was a ‘leaned-faced and ‘wheaten-skinned’ married woman who cleaned houses and told stories. She worked in the Narrator’s house in Gulberg 5, an area of new Lahore where only the affluent live. Halima lived in a locality adjacent to Gulberg. There were only mud-houses that provide shelter to the men and women working as gardeners, cleaners, and sweepers in Gulberg.
Halima was a married woman. She has two children: Gul Badan 6 and Allah Ruhka younger than his sister by four years. Her Husband, Gulam worked as a soil digger for the Sui Gas Company. Gulam was a second-generation convert. When Halima came to work, her children accompanied her. Allah Rukha played in the garden and Gul Badan looked after him. Halima was very fond of telling stories. She told the narrator about her sister “with an evil eye” who helped to abort unwanted babies. She told Sara bout her in-laws. She also told about her neighbors who wanted to buy a black buffalo.
Halima’s most favorite topic she talked about with Sara was Pather Nadi. It was she who told that Pather came to Lahore after every seventeen years and enjoyed “temperate berries’ in Anarkali. Halima talked about Pather Nadi with her whole being. She loved him to the extent of worship. Whenever she talked about him, she requested the narrator not to mention it to anyone else, especially the children should never know about him.
Halima was in habit of smoking cigarettes but she neither bought nor made any demand for them. She only picked up the butts of the cigarettes thrown by the narrator. Keeping in view Halima’s habit, Sara daily left three almost barely smoked cigarettes for her. One day Halima untied a half-smoked cigarette from the corner of her apron, inhaled a deep puff, and began to talk about Pather Nadi. She drew Sara’s attention to Allah Rakha’s face and invited her to read the lines on his face. She said to Sara that had she ever read the lines. When the narrator asked her what type of line she was referring to, Halima replied, “Those written by the body of the man whose name I must not say.” Halima again alluded to lines on Allah Rakha’s face and demanded that should be read like the palms of a thousand hands. She finally added, “A face with lines, and each line, with a meaning.”
Halima considered her passionate way of talking about Pather Nadi was “the nature of adultery”. She never committed adultery but she felt that so keen an interest was nothing but adultery. She always told Sara about Pather Nadi in pieces. One day the narrator said to Halima that “Allah Rakha is so sunny.” Halima stared at her face and replied, “Pather Nadi has sunlight in his bones, but he is not that infant’s father.” Halima also said: “His bones consist of sunlight. No marrow, no honey, nothing but sunlight in the secrete of those bones.” Halima remained so immersed in the thoughts of Pather Nadi that he became a source of solace and comfort for her. She told Sara, “When I work hard and my bones ache at night, I like to think that his eyes are the sun.” After listening to this Sara scolded her for speaking so metaphorically. Halima’s reply was “I thought you liked beauty.”